The Movies Made Me Do It: Confessions of a Film Actor (Issue #9)

Russell Bradley Fenton
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)
3 min readDec 27, 2020
“12.24.11 — ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’” by moviesinla is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

CHRISTMAS VACATION, 1989, PG-13 — Who didn’t want to sled downhill endlessly at massive warp speed, dodging just about every obstacle along the way, only to slam into a Walmart sign at the very end? Pretty much every kid with a derring-do attitude as well as a knack for performing slapstick. I always watched in delight this sequence, amazed at the length and energy of the stunt, wishing I could do what Chevy Chase did so effortlessly in his films: physical humor and funny faces. He was a hero in that sense.

He was even more of a hero in Christmas Vacation, my favorite of the series, which changed the dynamic of the Griswold family from traveling to staying at home for the holidays, hosting irascible grandparents and obnoxious relatives. Who can’t relate to a hapless but determined dad, wanting to present the best Christmas year ever? Especially when it meant life or death on that icy rooftop, stapling strand after strand after strand of Christmas lights under the full moon.

“The lights aren’t twinkling, Clark.”

“I know, Art. And thanks for noticing.”

There were other welcome additions to the Griswold family saga:

  • We see Clark’s job at the big company, which brilliantly sets up his bonus award gag by the film’s climax (his profanity-laden rant holds up so well because it’s so character driven and primal that it remains timeless).
  • The yuppie couple next door (Julia Louis-Dreyfus in an early role) who are constantly disrupted by the Griswold family and relatives.
  • Those quieter, poignant moments, like when Clark gets locked in the attic and resorts to watching home movies, or when he has a heart-to-heart with his niece Ruby about Santa Claus. The warmest is when his caring father confesses drinking Jack Daniels to endure past holidays.
  • Clark’s shameless flirting with a department store employee while shopping for his wife, only to be caught by his son is classic stuff:

“Can’t see the tan lines, can you Russ?”


Maybe because everybody called me ‘Russ’ growing up, I had an instant connection to the son character. I loved how different actors portrayed him in the series, but Johnny Galecki was my favorite because I was closer to age with him, and there was a refreshing cynicism in his attitude: He knew his dad meant well, but he was more embarrassed this time around when certain accidents or mishaps threatened the family’s livelihood. Juliette Lewis was also my favorite as Audrey because her attitude was the same, yet even more acidic. Her little scene with Beverly D’Angelo as the mom/Ellen is a gem: she complains about sharing a bed with her brother, while Ellen lights up a cigarette, only to be called out offscreen by her mother.

As for the rest of the film, it’s got so many memorable moments that it’s obvious why it ranks along other Christmas classics. Even if you’ve seen the film countless times, there’s always something to make you smile. And it’s also one of those movies where your favorite parts can change or evolve as you age. I still love:

• the turkey dinner scene (with Aunt Bethany singing the pledge of allegiance for grace)

• Clark and Eddie shopping together: notice how Eddie drops the enormous dog food bag over the lightbulbs

• the surprise squirrel

• Uncle Lewis torching the Christmas tree with his stogie

• the kidnapping of Clark’s boss

• the cute animated title sequence

• “Merry Christmas! Shitter was full!” (Randy Quaid still steals the show)

Christmas Vacation remains a quintessential holiday movie because it knows exactly what it is, and yet surprises us with sweeter, human moments beneath all the raunchy silliness. It doesn’t forget that heart can also elevate a comedy. Which leads to one last memory: when I first saw the movie, I’ll never forget the moment when Clark gazes out the window, dreaming about his swimming pool, then fantasizes about a woman — the department store employee — skinny dipping all alone. This was the only part I wasn’t allowed to watch. Mom said to shut my eyes. No peeking. I was like, “Come on, Mom!” But she insisted. The sex would have to wait.



Russell Bradley Fenton
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

I am a film/TV actor for life, screenwriter in development, and film/TV enthusiast.